132 of 150 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2001
This very moving book teaches more lessons than I can include in one review. By now most readers probably already know the basic theme - it's the story of a number of representatives of the generation that lived through the depression, fought World War II, and built post-war America. Many of the stories will bring tears to your eyes and make you recognize how far we have fallen from the standard of sacrifice and non-whining patriotism that these people took for granted as standards to live by.
But perhaps I can point out an additional, less-commented-on lesson from the book: Despite the consistent themes of responsibility and duty which underlie almost every account, these people were far more diverse than we today have given them credit for. They were not monolithically conservative, worshipers of the Establishment, traditionally religious, obsessed with making money, conformist gray-flannel people with 2.6 kids and a stay-at-home mom in each family. For example, when the Viet Nam war and the associated 60s protests arrived, the reactions and tolerance levels of these people varied widely. Their values and lifestyles were about as diverse as those we find in our new century.
The one clear difference between that generation and subsequent ones can be summed up in two words: no whining. In the entire book, I don't recall a single individual even mentioning the word "rights" as they applied to himself or herself. No one believed that he or she was entitled to special privileges or to live at the expense of anyone else. No one expected the world to be fair. They took the world as they found it, and made the best of it.
The only failure that the Greatest Generation can be charged with is that they were so successful in building a society where everything came easily. That in turn gave rise to the generations of adult brats who gave this book negative reviews because they couldn't believe some of the UNsolved problems could have been so hard to solve. The life of ease bequeathed to us by the Greatest Generation has obscured the natural hardships of life that made loyalty and hard work a necessary trait for survival. People now have the luxury of sitting back and leisurely lecturing their forebears on how THEY would have done everything better. When we hear (or read) such nonsense, I don't know whether the proper reaction is to laugh condescendingly or to throw up.
62 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 1999
I read the book and I've read some of the reviews. The book is an easy read. It is not a literary breakthrough, but a good story about a sometimes forgotten generation. The accusations by reader/reviewers of racism, bias, poor research, poor enunciation are surprising. It is too bad we cannot read and enjoy a book for what it is: A tribute to some of those who fought and preserved our freedom. I didn't expect to read a factual history, detailed analysis, of the period and I am surprised that others did. I enjoyed the stories, the point of view and even the parts that I found too wordy and somewhat boring. But, I guess I'm too tolerant.
50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
The theme throughout the book is that the generation of Americans that participated in World War II rarely talk about it. My father might have been one of Tom Brokaw's examples. While I was regaled with tales of self-reliance and want during a depression, he almost never spoke about his experience in the African campaign, or the wound that nearly cost him a leg. The author made it a point of finding out a good many stories, not unlike Dad's, even as these veterans are now dying at the rate of 1800 a day. Each page was like going back to my childhood, and listening to stories I never heard before.
Brokaw leaves no stone unturned or class of veteran out in the cold. He starts with ordinary people, the people on the home front, heroes, women in uniform and out, [our] shame, love, marriage and commitment, and famous people.
The ordinary people were just that, ordinary in an extraordinary way. Parents and kids were compelled to survive by keeping the family unit intact. Parents searched for any job that would bring cloth or food to the home, and children disciplined by denial, accomplished a full day of work before going to school. They made do, they went without, or they made it themselves. These were the people who were already in training for their participation in World War II, but didn't realize it.
The people on the home front toiled eighty-hours a week to keep the troops in equipment and supplies. Farm boys were highly sought after by Boeing, builders of the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Super Fortress. The company knew that when the farm tractor broke down it had to be fixed, on the spot, without help. Their intuition paid off many times over.
The home front could also be said to be the start of the women's movement. For the first time, women did jobs that had hitherto been considered only for men. Dorothy Haener never married preferring to keep her position as a UAW organizer, and her responsibilities grew as the union grew. (Marriage often meant being fired).
There were plenty of heroes who never bragged about their achievements. Although Bob Bush was a navy corpsman, he picked up an automatic pistol dropping eight charging enemy Japanese as he held a plasma bottle over a wounded marine. Instead of focusing on the Medal of Honor given him by President Truman, he raced back to the Northwest to start a thriving lumber business. Leonard "Bud" Lomell, US Army Ranger, used the G.I. Bill to go to law school and start his own law firm in New Jersey. He took his time training new lawyers and hiring women counselors. He didn't see why they should be left out. Talent and performance were his main concern just as it was in the Rangers. He never lost touch with them either.
The women in uniform during World War II, would constitute the first ever to achieve flag rank long after the war's end. They were Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS), Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS), SPARS of the Coast Guard (Semper Peratus and its English translation, Always Ready, combined), and nurses. The WASPS tested and ferried planes of all types to training sites, or from factory to airfield. Expert pilots, they were still considered civilians, and none of them received veterans' benefits even though thirty-eight of them died in the line of duty. They were unceremoniously sent home in 1944 as men filled more ranks and plane production began to taper off.
If World War II was the start of the women's movement, it certainly ignited civil rights where African American soldiers were expected to fight and die while watching German prisoners receive better accommodations than they did. Martha Settle Putney, now a retired history professor, was taking a train to her base in Texas along with several white officers who insisted that she sit with them. Even so, the train conductor refused to accept her Pullman car ticket and directed her to a freight train in the rear. Refusing to go, the conductor summoned the MP's. He was dumbfounded when the MP's, noticing her lieutenant's bars, simply saluted. They courteously escorted her to a military plane that would take her to her assignment. Martha Putney recognized that the war gave her an opportunity that she would have never dreamed of otherwise.
Our shame went beyond our treatment of African Americans. Nisei, Americans of Japanese ancestry, were rounded up as "enemy combatants" and placed in internment camps while their property and work of a lifetime was lost or stolen. It saw the best in us, as one Nisei left his grocery store in the hands of an employee. "It'll be here when you get back," he told him. True to his word, he simply handed back the keys when the owner returned. But the experience more aptly demonstrated our darker character. Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye, in uniform, and minus one arm, was refused a haircut in Honolulu. He was one of hundreds of volunteers, most of them from the camps that would make up the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The regiment was awarded seven Presidential Unit Citations and twenty-one of their members received the Medal of Honor. The "Go for Broke" RCT became the most highly decorated regiment in US history.
The intensity of war also brought the intensity in love and relationships where the separations actually made the bonds grow stronger, and the feeling that so much time apart meant that there was so much more time to make up for together. Wives became accustomed to their husbands' nightmares and their industry to ensure their family would never have to want. They wouldn't divorce. Marriage was a commitment as strong as the one to put on a uniform, or to hold a family together in a depression. Some wives and sweethearts found little to celebrate on V-J Day, as the War Department had already informed them that their loved one would not be coming home, or would not see the child born in their absence.
Many would achieve fame in a variety of endeavors: Ben Bradlee, Art Buchwald, Andy Rooney, Julia Child, Gertrude Belle Elion, Chesterfield Smith, Al Neuharth, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. Many others would enter politics such as Mark Hatfield, Robert Dole, George H. W. Bush, Daniel Inouye, Casper Weinberger, Lloyd Cutler, George Schultz, Arthur Schlesinger, and Ed Guthman.
What becomes clear is that this generation learned discipline and faith through the depression. They gained confidence and a deeper faith through war. A promise or handshake was as good as a contract, and a marriage was for life. They survived a depression and would not allow themselves to be beaten by enemies that were mere mortals. They helped America achieve a greatness that it had never known before, and will never have again. Being an American in 1945 had as much prestige as saying, "I am a citizen of Rome" did in its day. Tom Brokaw simply tells the stories of people across the country who did their part in World War II and how they readjusted to civilian life. These are common stories that held my interest from start to finish.
We honored these veterans a long time ago when there were stars in the windows of our homes and shops; blue for those serving, silver for those overseas, and the dreaded gold for those killed in action. We still have the ability to learn first hand about those who delivered our nation from fascism and totalitarianism. Although Veterans Day is a holiday, we can make it a learning day by asking and listening to those who served at home and around our globe.
We could actually spend this Veterans Day honoring our veterans.
This is for you, Dad. US Army Signal Corps 1939-1945
Happy Birthday: Oct. 16.
March 10, 2010:
Today, in our nation's capital, surviving women of the W.A.S.P.s are finally being honored with a Congressional Gold medal for the service they courageously performed during World War II. They will also qualify for full veterans' benefits. It's about time!
90 of 104 people found the following review helpful
Brokaw deserves credit for providing a major tribute to a generation that for too long has been underappreciated. Unfortunately, people in their late 70s and older are just seen -- particularly by Gen Xers and Gen Yers -- as OLD; with most of us having little understanding of the sacrifices and contributions they made towards making America what it is today. I agree with Brokaw that the WWII generation may be the greatest generation in America's history for the various reasons he cites in his book. As a book, however,The Greatest Generation, while interesting, does not fulfill the promise I was anticipating. Basically, what Brokaw has done is provide a series of short, somewhat fluffy chronicles of the lives of WWII veterans from various cross-sections of the United States. While these chronicles, as I said, are interesting, they do not provide enough depth and insight into how these individuals' wartime achievements contributed to what they accomplished after the war. Nonetheless, The Greatest Generation is a book worth reading for the main value it provides -- making each of the post-WWII generations understand and appreciate better a generation which, sadly, will not be with us for too much longer.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I found this book to be disappointing. I agree with Tom Brokaw's premise that the World War II generation may be the greatest in American history, and for the reasons he cites. It is a pity that he doesn't follow through with a book that really proves his argument. What Brokaw gives the reader is a series of brief, fluffy profiles of the lives of World War II veterans from many walks of life. These stories are interesting as far as they go; unfortunately, Brokaw doesn't delve deep enough to support the main contention of his book.
Brokaw seems instead to have concentrated on individual achievements during the war (which were inarguably outstanding), but gave relatively short shrift to his subjects' postwar achievements (which to me should have been the essential proof of Brokaw's overall premise. After all, many veterans who served in the decades since World War II have also become community leaders, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and politicians; it may be fairly argued that many of their achievements, while not yet fully tested in the crucible of history, will prove as significant as those of the generation Brokaw writes about). I also was left questioning how careful the author was in selecting the subjects about which he wrote. It seemed many of his selections were based on his own personal knowledge of the people he chronicled. Perhaps, with more research, he could have found subjects whose achievements after the war provided better support for his argument.
Like other reviewers, I found the author's writing to be at best average. He writes very much like he speaks; as a long-time viewer of NBC Nightly News, I found myself almost able to hear Brokaw's voice as I read along.
"The Greatest Generation" is a book which I feel has great potential left unfulfilled. It could have been a towering chronicle of the lives of some genuine American heroes, but falls short due to obviously inadequate research and a lack of focus. Its one major redeeming feature is that it has made generations of Americans since World War II understand better, and respect more, the people whose sacrifices during the war really did change the second half of the twentieth century. In doing that, this book does serve an admirable purpose.